Hands-on with the remaster’s brutal competitive multiplayer.
As soon as the announcement of a beta for Gears of War: Ultimate Edition’s multiplayer occurred, I knew I had to get in. No, I wasn’t a big fan of Gears PvP growing up, instead joining the Horde mode bandwagon and knocking out the campaigns for Gears 2, Gears 3 and Judgment. Even the idea of Locust Horde was much more fun and appealing than giving actual competitive multiplayer a try. But even if this is a remaster of the first Gears of War, you’d better believe I wanted to play it. It was Gears after all.
The beta started on June 15th shortly after the announcement at Microsoft’s E3 conference and featured one map – Gridlock – and mode – Team Deathmatch – in the beginning. Players start off with two weapons – the Lancer and Gnasher shotgun – but other weapons could be discovered on the map including the Longshot sniper rifle and Boomshot grenade launcher. Over the past week, other maps like Canals, War Machine, Courtyard and Gold Rush have also opened up alongside King of the Hill mode, which stays in a ranked playlist. The difference between a normal playlist and ranked playlist is that there are no XP penalties for quitting in the former and the latter offers more XP per match.
"If you've never played Gears before, the controls can come off as, for lack of a better word, "slow" - your turning speed isn't the greatest and there's a sensory thump every time you take cover."
Matches are 4 vs. 4 generally, though during the beta I have been thrown into 4 vs. 3 fights (matchmaking tends to fill the spots up quickly enough though). Team Deathmatch has been my poison of choice for the past few days since I found greater success in matching to other players over King of the Hill. Could it have been the South East Asia server connection? Or were there not enough players in King of the Hill at the times I played? Whatever the case may be, most of my beta experience has been with Team Deathmatch.
As for the combat, what’s there to say? Gears of War has always been about tactfully navigating cover, popping out to kill enemies with assault rifle fire, or closing in to successfully gib them with a shotgun or chainsaw bayonet. If you’ve never played Gears before, the controls can come off as, for lack of a better word, “slow” – your turning speed isn’t the greatest and there’s a sensory thump every time you take cover. This reinforces the need for quickly moving from one ruined slab of concrete/metal to the next. And yes, running while the camera dips down low takes some getting used to
Rack up enough kills during a match and it’s possible to flip spawn points and have your enemies spawn from your original starting position. The interesting thing is how the game alerts you that this is happening, immediately drawing your attention to the points enemies could be coming from. I haven’t seen any other competitive multiplayer game try this and it was an unorthodox mechanic. Luckily, you won’t get spawn trapped like other games. Spawn protection nets you a few seconds of protection, enough to relocate to a better place.
"Battles are often decided on whose better with the shotgun and even that can get sticky since there's no great way to determine how effective your shots are."
There are no kill-streaks, score-streaks, custom weapons or perks here – Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is about as old-school as third person competitive multiplayer can get. The shotgun is very powerful and has some pretty good range though someone with a Lancer and ample amount of cover can whittle you down quick. The Longshot is a one-shot kill if you aim for the head while the Boomshot’s projectiles have sufficient travel time, allowing you to avoid it if you’re careful or have sufficient cover. Even the Torque Bow has its downsides as sticking someone takes careful aim under fire.
The sheer visceral nature of the game hasn’t been diminished over the years and the remastered treatment makes everything come alive. Canals has a subtle hazy atmosphere to it that’s somewhat mellow and downplays all the murder happening. Gridlock’s wrecked cars and crumbling architecture denote the game’s destroyed beauty very well while War Machine is your typical dusty, underground map armed with a Troika turrent. The textures look cleaner and crisper than the original, with the overall effect bordering close to a remake rather than a remaster.
It’s easy to see why people wouldn’t like Gears of War: Ultimate Edition’s multiplayer though. Battles are often decided on whose better with the shotgun and even that can get sticky since there’s no great way to determine how effective your shots are. I would aim my shotgun squarely into an enemy’s torso only to have him shake off three rounds while decimating me with one (I will happily attribute that to atrocious aiming though since there were times where I aimed reasonably close to an enemy’s head and downed them).
It feels more like a learning curve rather than an inherently bugged weapon or server issues, though there was an instance where I shot and downed an enemy first only for his shotgun to seemingly go off at the last second and down me. The Lancer also isn’t as powerful as later games in the series – headshots are still pretty lethal if you have your opponent in a medium range engagement but you’re better off switching to your shotgun in such a scenario since your opponent will likely rush you.
"One of the biggest issues encountered in the beta was the matchmaking process. The first day was incredibly smooth but I had trouble finding a match immediately the second day."
If you can accept its various quirks and reliance on close quarters combat though, the multiplayer of Gears becomes a decidedly brutal affair. The lack of radar further emphasizes the need for situational awareness as you outflank your foes or work to out-dodge them. Alternatively, you can bait an enemy in and effectively chainsaw them to death. The maps range from medium to claustrophobic at times, emphasizing the need for close quarters fighting while accentuating the overall violence. This may not be every multiplayer fan’s cup of tea, to be honest, but I had a blast trying to think of ways to outsmart and outflank foes despite my horrible inefficiently with the shotgun.
One of the biggest issues encountered in the beta was the matchmaking process. The first day was incredibly smooth but I had trouble finding a match immediately the second day. The third day was relatively better though it was taking longer to find a lobby or immediately replace players after each match. Some players report spending up to half an hour trying to find a lobby as the game goes out on a limb to fill any and all vacant slots. At times, it usually felt easier to find a new lobby than wait for the game to fill player slots before the match began.
I’ve had my share of both one-sided and evenly matched battles though so I can’t complain about the overall skill matching. There would also be times at the beginning of the beta wherein I would fail to log in to Gears’ multiplayer services, prompting a closure and fresh restart. Matches themselves were lag-free and lacked any major issues; map rotation was also good and managed to keep things fresh on a frequent basis.
Of course this is a beta and you can bet player feedback will play a role in tweaking certain aspects by the time the game hits retail. I still hope that Gears of War: Ultimate Edition sees a Horde mode, if only because I have so many fond memories of the same. However, with some substantial polish and improvements, I can see myself wiling away a few evenings with the competitive multiplayer. Hopefully the overall multiplayer experience with the other modes and maps elevates the Ultimate Edition to something great.